5 Tips for Planning a Low-Stress Thanksgiving Dinner

Swc headshot 1

Sarah Walker Caron

Food & Home /


When loved ones gather on Thanksgiving, no one wants to be the harried, overworked hostess. Planning a low-stress Thanksgiving dinner means having more time to enjoy and make memories. Here’s how to do it.

When I was a little girl, my family split up holidays. My grandmother took Christmas and Fourth of July, hosting big dinners. My aunt and uncle did New Year’s and sometimes Easter. Thanksgiving settled into being a holiday we ate out.

By splitting the responsibilities, the holidays were less stressful.

As an adult, Thanksgiving settled into being my holiday. It’s a tradition that has held steady through moves, divorce and distance. And it’s one that’s forced me to develop ways to make it a low-stress endeavor.

Why should it be stressful? It’s supposed to be a day of family, of gratitude and of enjoying each other. Side dishes and cooking times shouldn’t jeopardize that.

Here’s my strategy for a low-stress Thanksgiving when you’re the host.

  1. Plan ahead. As soon as you can, start working on your menu. This is important. Knowing what you’re making, what you need to make it and when you need to order or buy those things will help you stay ahead and not fall into the last-minute stress curse.
  2. Plan smartly. Once you know what you’re making, create a schedule for cooking. For some items, like my roasted carrots and the two kinds of cranberry sauce I make, that means making them a few days in advance. For others, it means slotting them onto the day-of-Thanksgiving schedule. Working backward from when you want to serve dinner and considering what cooking facilities you have at your disposal, decide what should begin cooking when.
  3. Include some easy items. This tip could easily be called “don’t overdo it” because that’s really the lesson here. Some items on your meal plan for Thanksgiving should be easy — like a cheese plate or crudites and hummus as appetizers. At the same time, also be sure not too plan too many dishes. Serving 18 side dishes might have a wow-factor, but it also means you have to make those 18 dishes. Trim it back.
  4. Skip any food that feels more like an obligation than something you’re looking forward to. Salad. It felt like we needed a salad on Thanksgiving. But after a few years, my family agreed that the salad was superfluous. No one really ate it. Finally, we nixed it from our menu. If your family really doesn’t like green bean casserole, stop making it. If the sweet potatoes are only hitting the table because grandma always made them, stop making them. Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t need to come with a side of the stress of requirement.
  5. Let others cook. Does your sister want to bring mashed potatoes? Maybe your mom offered to bring pies? Let them! Handing off some of the responsibility frees you up to focus on the parts of the meal you most like making.

Most of all, be okay with saying no. Thanksgiving is a time to share a lovely meal with your loved ones. It’s a time for gratitude, love and making good memories. That’s why planning a low-stress Thanksgiving dinner is important. It leaves room for what’s really important.


Categories: Entertaining
About The Author
Swc headshot 1

Sarah Walker Caron believes that cooking is for everyone — yes, even you. She is the author of two cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook. She blogs about quick and easy from-scratch cooking at Sarah’s Cucina Bella. Sarah is a single mom to two middle schoolers who loves eggs with runny yolks, hiking and curling up on cold days with a steamy cup of tea and a good book. Connect with her on TwitterFacebookPinterest and Instagram.

comments powered by Disqus